Review: The Witch of Kings Cross

Trailer for The Witch of Kings Cross

Writer/Director: Sonia Bible

The story of Rosaleen Norton is not very well known outside Australia, even among the pagan world. I was lucky that a friend who was a huge fan introduced me to her art in the 90s. Powerful stuff, it is, too. With occult, spiritualist, and surreal art hitting their collective stride at the moment it seems the time is finally ripe for ‘Roie’ to have her moment in the spotlight — and with luck a more broad acknowledgement of her artistry. Bible’s glorious film will help in this respect, both conveying the broad strokes of Norton’s life but also the power and beauty of her art.

Born in New Zealand, she moved with her family to Australia. Even as a child she forged her own path, insisting upon living in a tent in the back yard for three years, making friends of spiders and other creatures. Bored with school, she found art an outlet for the burgeoning world churning inside her. Norton found inspiration in the figure of Pan and increasingly sought to find transcendent space in which to court her particular muse. She reads Jung and Crowley and pursues her own path through magic and art.

Her message: worship nature not the dollar. 

With her lover the poet Gavin Greenlees, she hitchhikes from Sydney to Melbourne for her first solo art exhibit in 1949 — and here the troubles begin. The show is raided, her work confiscated, and Norton is charged with obscenity, grabbing national headlines. They return to Sydney but the die is definitely cast. Norton just wants to live her life freely — making art, making love, making magic — but dogged by a puritanical cop she will face scrutiny, charges and headlines again and again. One high-profile lover has his career ruined. The police confiscate and burn her art. Modern witch hunts are always close at hand.

Norton’s story is fascinating on its own, but here it’s presented beautifully with the striking Kate Elizabeth Laxton stepping into the role in dramatisations along with a talented group of dancers including Damien Grima as Pan, Lukas Rose as Lucifer, and Karlee Misipeka as Lilith, who bring her art and writings to life in sinuous set pieces choreographed by Maya Sheridan. See the whole cast and crew here, but I also want to highlight Production Designer, Eve Waugh, and Costume Designer, Laura McGenniss.

There’s a nice variety of interviews, and an artful display of archival material. The whole film is a thing of beauty rather than just a document of an extraordinary life and a great bit of witch/pagan/occult history (not that those aren’t rare enough themselves).